Europe: New policy heralds an attitude change

Windpower Monthly UK Wind power is key to meeting Northern Ireland's new target for 40% of electricity to come from renewables by 2020, up from 7% today, says the province's environment minister Edwin Poots.

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The new target, set by the Northern Ireland Assembly's Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI), brings Northern Ireland in line with the Irish Republic, which set a 40% goal last year.

DETI says that the market and investors will decide the precise mix of wind and other renewables but suggests that the new goal will add £99 a year on electricity bills. This is consistent with a scenario of around 1350 MW of installed wind capacity supplying 33% of all electricity consumed. It adds that, despite the cost to consumers, the increased security of supply, economic development and carbon savings could give an annual benefit to Northern Ireland of some £50 million.

New planning policy for renewable energy sources (PPS 18) was published in July. "I believe firmly that PPS 18 strikes the right balance between protection of our valuable natural heritage and preservation of the amenity of rural dwellers, whilst at the same time ensuring that the necessary renewable energy infrastructure is put in place to allow us to meet our renewable energy targets," says Poots.

While the new policy has largely been welcomed by the industry, says Gemma Grimes from the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), two clauses are causing concern. One rules out installing turbines on active peat land, where peat is forming, but peat covers large areas of upland that are suited to wind development, she says.

distance from dwellings

The other clause requires turbines to be installed at least 500 metres away from dwellings, or the equivalent distance of ten rotor diameters away, if that is greater. "With the size of today's wind turbines, a ten rotor diameter distance could be 900 metres," says Grimes. The BWEA is now seeking clarification from DETI officials. Grimes adds, however, that Poots gave a verbal reassurance over both issues at an Irish Wind Energy Association workshop in Belfast last month.

For the wind industry, Poots' positive attitude marks a refreshing change from his controversial predecessor, Sammy Wilson, who held the environment portfolio until his promotion in June to the Finance and Personnel brief. Wilson denies man-made climate change and was hostile to wind farms, calling them "eyesores". Green Party assembly member Brian Wilson says Sammy Wilson "put the cause of climate change back by at least ten years".

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